More than 6,000 miles from his home in Tajikistan, IIE-SRF fellow Dr. Barakatullo Ashurov is bringing to life the ancient civilizations of his homeland at Harvard University. Ashurov, a scholar of ethnolinguistics and history, specializes in the languages and religions of pre-modern Central Asia, particularly those of the Sogdians, who lived in modern-day Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan between the 3rd and 11th century CE.
Sogdian studies in modern scholarship emerged in the early 20th century and has a small community of scholars worldwide, with Ashurov being one of few.
Ashurov earned his Ph.D. in study of religions from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. His research record comprises more than a dozen articles and book chapters examining the impact of language, religion, and culture transfers among ancient Central Asian societies. In his most recent publication, “Sogdian Christianity: Evidence from architecture and material culture,” in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Ashurov uses archaeological evidence to explore the extent to which East Syriac Christianity was adopted and adapted in Sogdiana.
At Harvard, Ashurov is undertaking his IIE-SRF fellowship in partnership with the Harvard Scholars at Risk program, pursuing research projects in the area of Sogdian lexicology to address lesser-known aspects of Sogdian culture. For this research, he is developing a theoretical method based on cognitive science and historical sociolinguistics in order to extract information from texts that approximates communication from a living speaker.
Ashurov is also planning to write a book that explores the history of Christianity in Central Asia from an ethnolinguistic and ethnocultural perspective.
While in the U.S., Ashurov has participated in several specialized academic events, including the opening of the first-ever digital exhibition devoted to Sogdiana, held at the New York University Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. In October 2018, he gave a lecture at Harvard on Sogdian numismatics, or the study of currency and coins.
"The intellectual diversity at Harvard provides an exceptional context for academic growth," Ashurov says of his time on fellowship. "The international campus life coupled with the diverse academic fields represented offers me encouragement and stimuli for developing new research ideas and methods. The campus-wide opportunities to attend lectures and seminars is also a big asset for networking and making professional connections with academics from both the U.S. and abroad."